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News / Sports / Outdoors

Columbia River spring Chinook seasons announced

Season constrained to protect wild salmon

By TERRY OTTO, For The Columbian
Published: February 22, 2023, 6:42pm
3 Photos
Guide Shane Magnuson of Upper Columbia Guide Service took this spring Chinook while fishing Drano Lake last year.
Guide Shane Magnuson of Upper Columbia Guide Service took this spring Chinook while fishing Drano Lake last year. (Photo courtesy of Buzz Ramsey) Photo Gallery

The states of Washington and Oregon announced Wednesday the spring Chinook seasons for the mainstem Columbia River, and they are very similar to last year.

Anglers may fish for and keep hatchery Chinook from March 1 through April 7 from the Buoy 10 line at the mouth of the Columbia River up to the Bonneville Dam, except that the river is open to bank angling only from Beacon Rock to the Bonneville Dam deadline.

The daily limit is two adult salmonids, only one of which may be a Chinook.

Only hatchery Chinook with an adipose fin-clip may be kept. Anglers must release all wild Chinook.

Many anglers were expecting a longer mainstem season, since the run forecast is better than last year, when about 275,000 adults returned. This year’s forecast is for over 315,000.

Iconic Northwest angler Buzz Ramsey said the season was constrained to protect wild salmon.

“The reason they did not extend the season more was because they are trying to protect the wild fish headed to the Snake River,” said Ramsey.

The numbers of wild spring and summer Chinook expected back to the Snake River is forecast to be only around 13,000 adults this year. That is a significant drop from the actual 2022 return of over 23,000 fish.

“About 70 percent of the remaining early Chinook habitat is in the Snake River watershed,” Ramsey continued, “but they have to pass all those dams.”

Every dam kills a small percentage of out-migrating smolts, but the Snake River fish must pass 12 dams, and the mortality adds up.

Still, Ramsey is optimistic.

“Our season may not be longer, but the fishing should definitely be better,” he said.

Ramsey also points out that last year’s strong showing of four-year old Chinook, which average about eight to 12 pounds, means there should be a strong run of five-year old fish this year. Those Chinook will weigh from 15 to over 20 pounds.

Spring Chinook are highly prized not only as hard-fighting game fish, but as some of the best table fare in the Northwest. They are also the first salmon of the year to return.

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From Bonneville Dam to the Oregon/Washington border, the season will run from April 1 through May 6. The daily limit is two salmonid adults, only one of which may be a hatchery Chinook.

The Select Areas will remain under permanent rules, except that on the days when the mainstem Columbia River below Bonneville Dam is open to the retention of Chinook, the salmonid daily bag limit in Oregon and Washington Select Areas will be the same as mainstem Columbia River bag limits.

On days when the mainstem Columbia River fishery below Bonneville Dam is closed to Chinook retention, the permanent salmonid bag limit regulations for Select Areas will apply.

At this time the spring Chinook seasons in the lower Columbia River tributaries in Washington are to remain under permanent rules.

In the Lewis River anglers may keep one adult hatchery Chinook daily until April 30.

The Kalama River is open through July 31. The daily limit is six, and up to two adult hatchery Chinook may be retained. Anglers with a two-pole endorsement may fish with two poles.

The Cowlitz River is also open through July 31. The daily limit is six, and up to two adult hatchery Chinook may be retained. Anglers with a two-pole endorsement may fish with two poles.

Anglers should note that the Barrier Dam Deadline Hole, a popular spring Chinook bank fishing area, is currently closed to angling.

Drano Lake will be open from March 16 through June 30. The daily limit is two adult hatchery salmon or steelhead. After May 1 anglers with a two-pole endorsement may use two poles.

Anglers are reminded that starting the second Wednesday of April, the lake will be closed to recreational angling on Wednesdays to allow tribal fishing.

The Wind River will also be open from March 16 through June 30. The daily limit is two adult hatchery salmon or steelhead. After May 1 anglers with a two-pole endorsement may use two poles.

Early in the season anglers should look to the Columbia below the mouth of the Willamette, since there are over 70,000 spring Chinook headed back to that Oregon river. As the season progresses, the action should pick up below the Bonneville Dam.

Once the Columbia closes anglers can head to the tributaries. As the fish begin to move over Bonneville Dam in good numbers, the fisheries at Drano Lake and the Wind River should take off.

Most anglers fish by either anchoring and fishing stationary baits during the outgoing tides, or trolling with flashers and bait along the flats. Good early spots include the Cathlamet area, the Multnomah Channel, and the mouth of the Willamette River.

While the 360 Pro-troll flashers have become very popular recently, Ramsey warns anglers that in the cold water of the early season those may move the bait around too fast for the slow-moving Chinook. For the first few weeks he advises anglers use the triangle Flashers instead.

While most guides will wait until mid-March to start fishing, other anglers will get out there early, and they do catch some fish. The fishing should improve with every week.

Always check the regulations before fishing. The WDFW may make emergency changes as needed throughout the season. Check for rules changes at the WDFW website.

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